January 28, 2017 in San Antonio, TX
To open Chris Hero’s goodbye weekend Evolve 76 was a strong show despite unfortunate problems with the ring ropes. For his final show with the promotion Hero was set to main event against his most persistent rival.
1) Barrett Brown vs Darby Allin
This never gets started as Ethan Page immediately interrupts, but it proves a distraction so the Gatekeepers can lay Allin out from behind. Brown takes exception to Page screwing with his shot, so Page levels him too. Page then cuts a scathing promo calling Allin worthless and the dirt on Page’s foot. He teases a match against Allin, but instead says the Gatekeepers will take on him and Brown.
Darby defiantly says Page is afraid of him and counters with an offer of 3 on 2.
Strong work all around, but this is kind of ridiculous given last night. Zack Sabre Jr gets a reversal DQ for not releasing a hold on Page after the match, but Page and company can attack these two (and everyone else) and be rewarded with a match.
1) Barrett Brown vs Darby Allin
1) Darby Allin & Barrett Brown vs Ethan Page & The Gatekeepers
So there’s no one in the back with an issue with Page to make this even odds? I understand Zack’s in the main, but Page’s rampage hasn’t pissed off ANYONE else?
The Gatekeepers still have no individual names for some reason, with Lenny referring to either as the/that Gatekeeper whenever one does something. I’ll use their Chikara names (Blaster McMassive & Flex Rumblecrunch) to tell them apart here.
Good action to start, with Allin and Brown trying to overcome the odds with high risk. The Gatekeepers are surprisingly game for that, with Blaster performing a great summersault dive to the outside (although he pretty much completely missed Allin and Brown).
Brown’s eventually dispatched on the outside, making the match 3 on 1 for a while. The Gatekeepers keep beating Allin down, then Page comes in, loses the advantage to a fired up Allin, and tags out. Repeat. Good formula/story and Allin plays the fiery underdog well.
Wait, Zack’s out!!! That’s better. Ref’s allowing him to join.
1) Darby Allin & Barrett Brown vs Ethan Page & The Gatekeepers
1) Darby Allin, Barrett Brown, & Zack Sabre Jr vs Ethan Page & The Gatekeepers
Zack’s in workout clothes instead of his gear too, which makes sense since he’s supposed to wrestle in main and explains why he wasn’t our sooner. Still wish something was said earlier to help with the logic, but this is awesome so I retract my most of previous gripes about the setup.
Zack takes over on the Gatekeepers until a big spear from Blaster. Brown then missile dropkicks both Gatekeepers but Page Border Tosses him onto the pile outside.
All six men brawl all over crowd, where Allin climbs a pillar and does the Coffin Drop (trust fall) from the rafters onto the pile below. It’s jaw dropping, but also insane. The crowd love it gets will only make it worse, and I’m seriously worried for his long term well being.
Back in the ring a triangle choke by Zack on Page is teased (nice nod to the finish of their match on Evolve 76). Blaster takes over on Zack, leading to an incredible finish where Blaster tries to counter Zack’s triangle choke with a one arm powerbomb, but Zack converts to an octopus hammerlock instead for the win.
This turned into something really fun and well told. It keeps Allin/Page simmering, while giving the faces a needed victory. ***3/4 for the whole thing. Brown was largely in background, but got to show some of what he can do and looked good. Hope he comes back. Still don’t like the inconsistency of logic with Page running rampant, but the story’s compelling otherwise.
2) Loredo Kid vs Tracy Williams **1/2
This is the Evolve debut for Kid. Apparently we’re back to “Hot Sauce” tonight, as there was no mention of “Maltese Falcon.”
Mat wrestling early, with Williams logically getting the better of those exchanges in the end. But the as pace quickens Kid takes over. A simple, solid story. During this Kid hit a beautiful summersault to Williams on outside using ringpost as stepping stone.
Williams is at his best when going back and forth. Long periods of ground and pound offense from him and things get slow. This match was a mix. Williams picks up a emphatic win when Kid misses a Phoenix splash and Williams IMMEDIATELY hits diving forearm into the crossface for the tapout. Great finish. Ok match.
3) Chris Dickinson & Jaka vs. Jason Kincaid & Sammy Guevara ***1/2
I don’t know Sammy, but the crowd certainly does. Lenny continuing his excellent job this weekend filling us in nicely on Sammy’s hometown status and how he appeared on other WWN umbrella shows. This tag should be fun given what I saw from the other three on Evolve 76.
Kincaid starts out opposite Jaka, and he’s so smooth in everything he does as he employs hit and run tactics against his larger opponent. I’m still loving his zen gimmick, which he really executes well and keeps it from becoming campy.
Wholesale switches allows Sammy to show impressive agility against Dickinson. Character notes too, as Sammy gloats too long and Chris sneaks behind him and hits a nasty dragon suplex to take control. Catch Point then just grinds Sammy down for a while with pounding offense. The contrast in these teams is meshing well.
Highlights of the match include a neat stalling suplex by Jaka into a doubleteam suplex when Dickinson joins him, a sunset bomb to outside by Kincaid on Jaka, and a shooting star press by Sammy onto Catch Point on floor from the top rope. Towards the end Kincaid wows the crowd when he walks the ropes for a Van Terminator style missile dropkick after Jaka rolls into the far corner to try to avoid Kincaid.
Special mention to the ref doing a fantastic job of keeping track of who was legal during the chaos, as the wrestlers were losing track and covering the wrong people. That’s not a criticism of the wrestlers either – it fits the high speed action well and “in character” it makes sense that everyone would be going for a cover whenever they see a chance. Having the ref properly enforce the rules though adds credibility and aids suspension of disbelief.
Catch Point eventually win this competitive contest with a swank chokeslam Doomsday Device variation. Williams comes out to congratulate his teammates and praises the aerial wrestlers, but pushes the Catch Point style as superior over it.
Then “journalist” Larry Dallas makes an appearance (noting he’s outside talent now and threatening lawsuits if touched). To stir the pot he asks Williams if Jaka and Dickinson are going to get a tag title shot. Kincaid interrupts and cuts a zen promo that’s just the right side on incomprehensible, praising his opponents but poking at Dickinson’s ego. Catch Point needing to him down prevents Dallas from getting an answer, but he declares his involvement a success anyway and calls himself “the straw that stirs the drink.” This storyline direction makes sense and will be interesting to follow.
4) Fred Yehi vs ACH ***
Interesting matchup in the wake of ACH’s debut against Riddle, although after Yehi made Thatcher tap it feels like there’s no drama here.
Posturing early on and I’ll admit for me seeing ACH throwing Yehi’s stupid “you’re in trouble” cry back at him was great. On commentary Lenny recounts discussions he’s had with ACH about joining Evolve, which in effect ends up relating a lot of criticism of ROH without mentioning them by name. In a great little touch ACH also put over the opportunity to face Riddle and learning from the experience despite the loss.
Back to the action and Yehi applies a stump puller and says he’s going to make ACH kiss his knee, starting a “kiss your knee” chant. I can’t even. This is a standard Yehi match whenever he’s on offense: technically competent, but dull overall and silly in parts. I particularly can’t stand the stomp based offense. Crowd’s loud for both men though, and when ACH is on offense things are great. And towards the end Yehi gets serious and things in general pick up a lot, including a fantastic slap exchange.
In a bit of a shocker to me, ACH eventually hits the brainbuster and picks up the win! In retrospect Yehi still made the champ tap, so despite this loss he could leverage that into a title shot regardless. Doesn’t make him look like a strong challenger though. Regardless, what this DOES do is immediately establish ACH in Evolve. Hopefully they make a big deal of it, with perhaps a FIP title shot or him and a partner going after Catch Point’s Evolve tag titles. Yehi looks pissed afterwards, but offers a handshake. Good, consistent character work from Yehi.
Predictable when done right is fine (as we’ll see later) and surprises for surprises sake can get illogical, but unexpected results like this that still make sense add a lot to the product. Great call here.
4) No DQ: DUSTIN vs. Matt Riddle ****
The “Bro” chants start as soon as no-DQ match mentioned during Joanna’s introduction. DUSTIN’s out first with a chair as a nod to last night, and the crowd boos him mercilessly.
To open DUSTIN swings for fences with chair, but Riddle ducks and takes over with mat wrestling. His advantage continues until DUSTIN eventually connects with the chair. From there they have a crazy brawl that takes place mostly outside the ring. DUSTIN whips Riddle into fans’ chairs repeatedly, wiping out several rows, but Riddle reverses the third attempt to the crowd’s delight. He then has fans hold a chair up to DUSTIN’s head and hits a running kick to an even more gigantic ovation.
Later DUSTIN rushes Riddle to knock onto stack of chairs but gets caught with an exploder onto stack leading to a “Bro-ly Shit” chant. Amusing.
They fight on fighting on a merch table, Riddle misses a senton and splats onto a pile of chairs, etc. It’s pandemonium in the best way.
DUSTIN hits a summersault senton onto Riddle through a table on outside and rolls him in for a doublestomp from top as followup… and Riddle kicks out at ONE! Crowd goes INSANE. Beautifully done. DUSTIN follows with a superkick and a DDT on a chair for 2. He then builds a tower of chairs, but Riddle catches him up top and hits a superplex through said chair tower. Bro’s done with this, and he just viciously slams his fists into DUSTIN’s head a few times in a ground and pound then cradles for the win.
Like last night, this was something different from Riddle and it really worked. Great, great brawl from these two. I want to see more of this DUSTIN going forward, and Riddle’s continuing to prove he can do it all.
5) EVOLVE Championship Match: Timothy Thatcher (w/ Stokely Hathaway) (c) vs Jeff Cobb **3/4
Thatcher’s heel turn is taking full hold, as the crowd’s firmly behind Cobb here. Before the bell Cobb again talks to “Timmy” instead of Hathaway and dedicates match to their trainer Oliver John. Lenny’s really playing up Thatcher’s reign, listing who’s who list of names he’s beaten.
The story is Cobb’s power and perseverance against Thatcher’s surgical assault on Cobb’s arm. I’m more of a fan of Thatcher’s style than most nowadays, but as a heel Thatcher’s slowed things down too much and is too deliberate in pace. This was also much more one sided than I expected for most of the match (in Thatcher’s favor).
There were nice little touches though, like when he was fighting for the gutwrench on the bigger man and Cobb’s excellent selling of the arm (until the end when he forgot it to through suplexes). Cobb did a standing shooting star late that would have been awesome, but he landed nowhere near where Thatcher was laying even before Thatcher moved. Glaring error that broke immersion a bit.
Thatcher kept fighting for an arm bar, but then switched it up and leveraged into a pin for the win in a nice finish. The champ gave Cobb a fake clap afterwards and Hathaway taunted him with the belt. The audience gave an ovation for Cobb after Thatcher left.
Main Event: Chris Hero vs. Zack Sabre Jr. ****1/2
The atmosphere is incredible. Hero soaks it in and sings his song on the way to the ring. Despite the earlier love for Zack in the opener, the crowd’s all hero here and serenades Zack with “Hero’s gonna kill you”chants.
Small criticism of Lenny here (in an otherwise outstanding performance all night) as he way oversells the feud: “the one thing Zack Sabre Jr hasn’t done in this company: beat Hero.” Uhm, how about the fact that he hasn’t won ANY title in Evolve? This feud and Sabre’s quest to finally get a win against Hero is a big deal, but that statement was a bit ridiculous.
Hero somewhat hilariously (considering the buildup last night) offers a handshake to open, but Sabre lands a running headscissors into an arm bar attempt and Hero just barely escapes. Good fire and intensity from Zack showing what this means to him.
This was exactly the hard hitting, back and forth war that was expected and needed. Late match in what’s become the standard going to WWE tease, Hero hits a Pedegree and Zack kicks out at one to huge a reaction. Hero looked to destroy Zack and be done with with a short piledriver followed by a regular piledriver followed by a Gotch version, but Zack reverses the Gotch piledriver into a hurricanrana, ties up Hero’s arms, adds a stretch muffler, then kicks the hell out of Hero’s head with him tied up like a pretzel and ZSJ finally beats Hero. Exactly what I expected from the result, but the journey here was the important part and it was a hell of a journey.
Afterwards Hero gives a classy goodbye speech putting over Zack, Evolve, and the fans. Someone shouts “I love you Hero!”and he responds with “pretty sure I love you too.” This was a long segment, with Hero talking about coming back to the indies, having a second chance in NXT, and about his friendship with Zack and thinking the latter should be champ. In the middle ACH comes out to thank Hero but also claim he should be mentioned alongside Zach in discussion of title contenders. Hathaway comes out, talks to Thatcher’s belt (yes, really. sigh.), and says “his baby” doesn’t think either of them are deserving. As he leaves though Thatcher comes out and simply points at Zack with a chuckle. Zack tells ACH after he beats Thatcher ACH can have the first shot at him.
Fantastic farewell for the “Greatest of All Time.” The main was incredible, there was great effort up and down the card, and Hero’s speech was genuine and emotional. Shame Keith Lee wasn’t on the show after the ring ropes hampering his debut at Evolve 76, but otherwise this delivered in spades and both shows from Evolve this weekend are well worth checking out.